2019 is only a few days away, but 2018 has been a year of mixed emotions for the fans of Myanmar football. The football in these parts of the world showed many signs of encouragement over the course of the year, but ultimately ended in disappointment and heartbreak for Myanmar football fans.
So, with 2018 coming to an end, FOX Sports Myanmar Editor May Nwe Win takes a look at how things fared in Myanmar when it comes to football.
The National Team
It was a case of so close yet so far the Asian Lions at the international stage.
The national team took a new direction when it appointed a foreigner in former Football Federation Australia employee Eric Abrams as its technical director in October. Along with German coach Antoine Hey, who was appointed the head coach in May, they were to revolutionise the way Myanmar played football.
The shorter term goal was to perform well at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 and reach the semifinals of Southeast Asia’s regional competition as well as the Asian Games 2018.
Onto the AFF Suzuki Cup then and Myanmar came out of the blocks flying with a 4-1 win over Cambodia. Hey’s men then defeated Laos before holding eventual champions Vietnam to a goalless draw — which all meant that avoiding a defeat against Malaysia in their final group match would have given them a historic berth in the semifinals of the biennial event.
However, they lost 3-0 to Malaysia and ended their campaign in disappointment. It also meant that Hey’s short but eventful tenure as the country’s head coach would come to an end as Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) cited the team not reaching the semis as the reason why they decided to part ways with the coach.
The Asian Games draw wasn’t very kind to Myanmar U-23s as they were pooled with Iran, Saudi Arabia and DPR Korea in Group F. Not many expected them to progress out of that group, but it was much tighter than all expectations. All four teams in the group finished with four points as Myanmar defeated the might Iran 2-0 and drew 1-1 with North Korea.
However, unfortunately, it was them who bowed out on goal difference — they had conceded three goals against the Saudis. Many players who impressed during the Asian Games were included by Hey in the national team for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 held couple of months later.
Another major achievement of the youth national team was reaching the final of the AFF U-19 Championship held in Indonesia back in July. Myanmar qualified behind Malaysia from Group B and then defeated regional giants Thailand 1-0 in the semifinals to set up the clash with Malaysia in the final.
It was a closely-contested final and Myanmar were at one time 3-2 in front. But the Harimau Malaya came back from behind to record a 4-3 win as Myanmar settled for a second-placed finish.
In November, the Myanmar women participated in the qualifiers for the women’s football competition at the 2020 Olympic Games and managed to come out on top in a group that also featured India, Nepal and Bangladesh. They have now progressed to the next round of qualifiers which will be held in April 2019.
Myanmar National League
Yangon United emerged as the winners of the Myanmar National League in 2018 and it was a record fifth title for them as they overtook Yadanarbon who were level with them on four domestic league wins. Yangon will now play in the preliminary round 1 of the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup group stage.
Meanwhile, Shan United finished second, also to qualify for the AFC Cup group stages. Joseph Mpande of Hantharwady United was the top scorer of the league with 18 goals while Yangon’s Guinean striker Sylla Sekou finished with 17 goals.
2018 also saw a number of Myanmar stars moving to try their luck in the Thai League. Yangon and national team striker Kyaw Ko Ko has joined Samut Prakan City FC while superstar Aung Thu has signed for Thailand giants Muangthong United ahead of the new season.
Aung Sithu and Zaw Min Tun meanwhile picked the colours of Chonburi FC and will turn out for the Sharks in the upcoming Thai League 1 season.
What’s new in 2019?
2019 begins for Myanmar with the Jockey Club International Youth Invitational Football Tournament 2018 in Hong Kong where the nation’s U-16 boys will look to make waves.
Myanmar will also the qualification tournament for the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship in March 2019 where they will fight it out among Japan, Timor-Leste and Macau with the winner of the group getting the chance to make it to the continental championship.
It will also be interesting to see what direction the Asian Lions will take under the new national team manager. Will the sacking of Hey come back to haunt the MFF? All’s there to be seen.
FOX Sports Asia Report Card Rating: D
Myanmar were expected to perform to the highest level by their faithfuls, but when the moment came where they needed to step up, the national team went out on a whimper.
The realistic target of MFF should to be aim for a gold medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games to be held in December 2019. They have over a year’s time to prepare for the tournament and the fans will be hoping that the perennial underachievers will finally start winning something at the international stage.